Review of Show Your Work!

Following every job interview I typically write down notes about it. I want my impressions to be fresh and any pertinent information transmitted not to be left merely to memory, which vacillates whether one is hopeful or despairing. After meeting with the Adam Ross to discuss the possibility of my taking on the role of Content Strategist and Social Media Co-ordinator at AR Design I found myself writing down a question that he asked me but that I felt was rather unusual: “What is your creative process?”

Now, I don’t think that the question itself is unusual. I think for any sort of creative oriented position one ought to be able rather clearly explicate one’s creative process. It was not unusual as I think that this is a taboo subject. I think that a good deal of obfuscation goes on by people that are creative and that this is often to their detriment as artists – a perspective that I share with Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. It was unusual as in the several other interviews I’d had for what were essentially several creative positions and not one of them asked me this question!

After the job interview I went to FedEx in order to print out the last notes that the editor for my book had sent me. While there I saw a copy of Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon. It felt like serendipity that I’d been asked this question just a few hours before and that this book was now within reach! With this in mind I picked up the book and spent an hour each over the next 4 days reading it.

In short, the Ten Commandments to sharing like an artist are as follows:

You Don’t Have To Be A Genius.
Think Process, Not Product.
Share Something Small Every Day.
Open Up Your Cabinet Of Curiosities.
Tell Good Stories.
Teach What You Know.
Don’t Turn Into Human Spam.
Learn To Take A Punch.
Sell Out.
Stick Around.

In length, the 202 pages of the book expand on these ideas in a compelling manner. That there are a number of quotes by creatives to drive this home seemed par for the field of books like this, one of the things that I also liked was Kleon’s use of art to drive home the point that the creative process is a large one, that the excessive focus on only a few elements of the creative process can help lead to a failure to live up to one’s potential and that by being aware of these aspects and acting in accordance with them unleashes a lot of creative potential.

Inside book image from Show Your Work
Inside book image from Show Your Work

For myself, after reading this book I decided to start sharing some of my process about creating Unraveling rather than commenting on a number of images related to the story as well as providing background information along the lines of a Cambridge Companion to Literature. Sharing this process allows one to get greater fellowship, feedback or even patronage.

Two of my favorite concepts the book delves into is the idea of “scenius” and of creation as curation. Regarding the former, which Kleon states originates from Brian Eno, it’s pointed out that it is only through interacting with many people that a fertile “ecology of talent” is created. This can be in the form of consuming a variety of works but is mores evident in the interactions over the internet and in person wherein ideas get flushed out, aesthetic choices get analyzed and critiqued, and those that are also enthusiastic about what you are share in their joy over the exchange of work. When I think of the latter, curation as creation, in relation to my own work I recognize this as a direct mirror of my own process. Unraveling is unashamedly influenced by a number of novels, television series, movies thatI’ve read as well as non-fiction material from the newspapers, academic tomes and other sources. Part of the reason why I was attracted to getting an interdisciplinary studies degree at NYU was indeed a reaction to the perspective that the various subjects in school ought to be studied in isolation from one another. This does not mean I think that there ought to be no specialization, but that at a number of levels it’s important to recognize the totality of human knowledge and the benefits that accrue if not in the academic field than in life in general by being more of a generalist.

Inside Image from Show Your Work Related to Sharing Process
Inside Image from Show Your Work Related to Sharing Process

I got a little off topic there so then let me say in closing that I highly recommend this book as while it’s not pathbreaking contribution to the various DIY Inspiration/Creative Self Help books it’s a very timely and well written work that I think will become a touchstone for a number of creatives, like myself, who see in these types of mass-market tomes a type of professional/personal development.

Watch the trailer for the book below:

Show Your Work! Book Trailer from Austin Kleon on Vimeo.